The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a serious blow to in-person meetings of all kinds, including RiverWorks Discovery’s popular career discovery event, Who Works The Rivers (WWTR).
Before the pandemic, RiverWorks Discovery was ramping up WWTR, holding events in cities large and small and on multiple river systems. High school students by the busload would converge on host ports and terminals to discover the culture, commerce and conservation tied to the nation’s waterways and the maritime industry. But the pandemic brought that to a halt.
Now, thanks to a partnership with the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center (KCWC), Who Works The Rivers is set to go virtual, with an online career education event scheduled for April 14. The free event, which is open to students and RiverWorks Discovery supporters both in Kentucky and throughout the nation, will carry the same goal as the well-known in-person events: to introduce students to the wide range of career paths and rich culture of the maritime industry.
“We’ve been working on content for nine months for this,” said Errin Howard, program director for RiverWorks Discovery, “and I’m really excited about it.”
The partnership will lean on a successful program the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center has built over the past three years. In 2019, KCWC launched its Bus To Business program which, much like Who Works The Rivers, is dedicated to connecting students to Kentucky employers. The first Bus To Business event took place October 2, 2019, and it involved students from 30 schools visiting 32 business in 24 Kentucky counties. In all, more than 1,200 students participated that day.
“We took that virtual during the pandemic,” said Brittanie Dawson, a talent pipeline project manager for the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center.
To make that happen, KCWC partnered with Covington, Ky.-based IT company ULIMI, which built an online platform for transitioning the Bus To Business program to a virtual format. Rather than an annual event, the virtual Bus To Business program now is a weekly event, held on Wednesdays and branded “Workforce Wednesday.” With that format change, the number of participating students has ballooned to more than 18,000.
Dawson said representatives from a couple of the Kentucky Chamber’s partner businesses in the maritime industry suggested she reach out to Howard about collaborating on a maritime-focused Wednesday event. In no time, the April 14 Who Works The Rivers/Bus To Business event began to take shape.
“We’re really excited about this partnership,” Dawson said.
So far, the event will feature representatives from American Commercial Barge Line, Associated Terminals, Crounse Corporation, Excell Marine, Hines Furlong Line, Ingram Barge Company, James Marine, Marquette Transportation Company and Seamen’s Church Institute. Howard said an exciting part of the event being virtual is that industry participants are no longer bound by a geographical region. She encouraged companies interested in participating, regardless of their location, to contact her soon.
The same is true of schools interested in tuning into the event.
“I had a school contact me and ask who should participate,” Howard said. “In person, we have limited capacity, so we target only juniors and seniors. Online, though, we have unlimited capacity, so anyone can tune in. Now, teachers and administrators can target their younger students, which is actually where career exploration begins.”
Howard said she also hopes RiverWorks Discovery partner companies will tune in to see what the virtual event is like and offer feedback.
The April 14 event will feature both an interactive presentation that offers an in-depth look at the maritime industry and prerecorded videos from partner companies, including mini tours of vessels and facilities.
Moving forward, even when in-person meetings are held again, Howard said she anticipates continuing to offer WWTR online events as a way to broaden the program’s reach and, hopefully, spark the interests of even more kids in careers in the maritime industry.
“It makes me really excited because I see all of our work over the last nine months coming together,” she said. “This allows expansion and the opportunity for us to reach even more students.”
Registration details are available online at www.events.ulimit.co/v/whoworkstheriverbustobusiness.